The Ford Mustang is half a century old. Not the one you see here, obviously, which is brand new and headed for the UK market in a year's time. But the idea of a good-value sporting coupé with a long bonnet, a short tail and Mustang galloping across the radiator grille has been with us since 1964.
There have been many Mustangs over the years – those of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are best forgotten, as the original idea got lost, but the 2004 reprise of the proper mid-1960s models (you know, the Bullitt car chase and myriad popular songs) proved a big hit despite a very period, perhaps over-faithful mechanical crudity.
The new Mustang again makes a strong visual reference to the original, with its open-mouthed radiator grille, its recesses along the flanks and its tail-lights each formed of three vertical bars. Inside, too, there's much bright-metal embellishment.
There are two major departures, however: this time it will be officially available in Europe, including a right-hand drive version, and it has finally lost its old-fashioned solid rear axle in favour of a proper, modern, independent rear suspension. This very belated mechanical update is intended to lift the Mustang beyond its retro, muscle-car roots. Instead of treating it as a characterful but flawed American curio, potential buyers (Ford hopes) will consider a Mustang as a viable, cheaper, more interesting alternative to a BMW 4 Series coupé or an Audi A5.
However, if the prospect of the V8 version's hefty fuel thirst, and hefty road-tax bill to match, is too much to bear, there is also – for the first time since the early 1970s – a four-cylinder alternative. This uses a relative of the turbocharged Ecoboost engine found in the Ford Focus ST, raised here from 2.0 to 2.3 litres and powering the rear wheels, in usual Mustang fashion, rather than the fronts as in the Focus. With 310bhp on tap, this should provide plenty of Mustang-appropriate pace.
The original Mustang was not a big car by today's standards and the new one is much the same size as its ancestor, if nearly 400kg heavier thanks to its stronger structure, extra equipment and massively improved safety. This is a handsome car, crouching low on its hefty wheels, and it has a quality interior.
It goes as it looks, the V8 emitting a rousing, blattering beat to accompany its vigorous pace. There is not quite the easy thrust at low engine speeds that you might expect, but if you let it rev freely you will discover what 435bhp feels like when released. It steers with delightful precision and feedback, and you can balance it on the power with delicious accuracy in a fast corner. This is a proper modern sports coupé, tarnished only by suspension which feels unnecessarily firm and choppy on poor surfaces. Ford accepts this could be improved, and it needs to be done by the time the Mustang goes on sale here.
The other improvement needs to be to the four-cylinder engine, which has plenty of power but sounds unpleasantly boomy and gruff. Its response to the accelerator is mushy, too, which kills the feeling of precise flow so appealing in the V8. All of which means that the V8 is the Mustang to have. Over a BMW or Audi? If you really love cars as well as not wanting to drive the obvious, then yes.
Ford Mustang GT V8
Price: £34,000 approx (four-cylinder version £29,000)
Engine: 4,951cc, V8 cylinders, 32 valves, 435bhp
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-62 in 4.4 secs, 26mpg, CO2 not yet quotedReuse content